Even though Google has focused on user privacy with its latest versions of Android, the company once made it difficult for Android users to hide their location data. According to recently discovered documents, the Mountain View giant continued to collect location data from users even as they turned off location sharing for their devices, and surprisingly many of this company’s executives also engineers were informed of it.
For the unaware, Arizona State Attorney General (AG) accused Google of “misleading” location tracking at Android devices last year. The Arizona state attorney general argued that Google continued to track users’ locations and use them for profit even when they chose not to share their location data. The organization misleads users into thinking that turning off location tracking was enough to hide their location data from Google.
During a recent hearing in the lawsuit, Arizona AG submitted some raw documents that reveal more details about how Google handled location data. So, according to the docs, Google once made it impossible for users to hide their location data and hid popular privacy settings inside its mobile operating system. Furthermore, it encouraged other smartphone makers like LG to do the same.
Even some of Google’s employees, who were in charge of location-related services, didn’t fully understand how Android’s privacy settings worked. Jack Menzel, a former vice president of Google Maps, admitted that the only way users could hide their location was to get Google out of the way by setting their home and work addresses as random locations.
Additionally, Google once forced users to share their location data to use certain third-party applications. One of the employees told there was no way to provide a third-party app their location data without giving that data to Google.
Furthermore, the documents state that when Google tested versions of Android that allow users to find privacy settings easily, the company saw it as a “problem.” As a result, Google moved to place the location sharing and privacy settings within the settings menu.
Speaking to The Verge about the ongoing lawsuit, Google wrote in an email that Arizona AG “and our competitors driving this lawsuit have gone to great lengths to mischaracterize our services. We have always made privacy features in our products that also provide robust controls for locating data. We hope to set the record straight. “